Downsizing and Real Estate

8/11/2021 | By Kari Smith

Cleaning house is not really at the top of many people’s “fun things to do list.” But if it’s time to clean out a hoarder’s house? The task becomes that much more difficult. Because hiring a professional can be expensive, this unpleasant downsizing task may fall in the hands of folks whose loved one has either moved into a senior living facility or has passed away. So where should you even begin? What are the steps to clean out a hoarder’s house?

1. Ask for help!

When it comes time to clean out a hoarder’s house, the process will be a tedious and perhaps emotional one – especially if the occupant was a loved one. The task will quickly become overwhelming, physically and otherwise.

Ask for help from other family members and friends who can help divide and conquer. Before beginning this process, understand that there may be some very unpleasant surprises in the form of insects, spiders, vermin, animal urine or feces, rotting or molding food, or worse. Be sure to choose helpers who can stomach these unpleasant surprises and push on.

2. Trash removal

The first and likely most difficult task is removing trash. Depending on the amount of trash, it may become necessary to rent a dumpster. There are different sizes available – and keep in mind when choosing that larger items may fill up the dumpster quickly. If you are not renting a dumpster, be prepared with a vehicle that can transport large numbers of bags of trash to the dump. Check with your local waste station to see if there is any charge for dumping. If the amount of trash is very large, you may want to call ahead to make sure that they are prepared to handle the amount of waste you are bringing.

Bring a few boxes of contractor trash bags – do not waste money on cheap, flimsy bags or smaller kitchen trash liners. Buy extras, even if you think you won’t need them. Any unopened boxes can likely be returned later, and you may underestimate what is needed.

3. Saving valuables

While removing trash, you may come across items of value. Designate an empty box or pile for items to “keep” and “donate.” If something is of value and in good shape, it can be donated and put to good use elsewhere. Bonus: donated items can often be picked up from the house and sometimes are tax-deductible.

4. Cleaning and disinfecting

Keep in mind that when you clean out a hoarder’s house, there are often things that are incredibly undesirable to clean up. If the hoarder had pets, chances are that there is hidden waste. There will likely be very old, expired, and rotten food in the refrigerator, and perhaps throughout the house.

Be sure to bring a facemask, rubber gloves, a trove of bleach / antibacterial wipes, and cleaning supplies. A walk through the house will give you an idea of what cleaning supplies you will need.

5. Take stock of damages to clean out a hoarder’s house

Given the nature of hoarding, there are areas that may need to be replaced rather than cleaned. In the case of leaks that were unearthed, pet feces or urine, or just extreme filth, flooring may need to be replaced. Carpets will most likely need to be professionally cleaned, if not replaced. Walls will definitely need to be painted.

6. Disinfecting and deodorizing

After all trash has been removed, surfaces have been cleaned, and damaged areas have been replaced, disinfect the home with Lysol or an industrial-strength disinfectant. Be sure that all kitchen surfaces and appliances have been fully disinfected to remove any remaining food particles or bacteria.

Once all of the offending items have been removed, their odors will mostly go with them; but there is a good chance that some will remain. If the weather allows, open the windows and let the house air out. Run fans if necessary to keep the air moving. If any carpets remain, sprinkle liberally with baking soda before vacuuming. Spray Febreze in the air, and on soft surfaces. Be sure to change air filters.

Cleaning out a hoarder’s house will be extremely taxing. Get it done by breaking the job up into smaller, individual jobs to make it less overwhelming. Most likely, the end result will be extremely satisfying!

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith